By Dave Hoffenberg
Every February Jack Daniel’s brings a weekend of parties to the hill. It also brings a group to town that is a party of its own: Team Canada. This year marks the 25th anniversary of their annual trip. To commemorate the anniversary Peter Whittier, the team’s “captain,” reached out to guys who haven’t been able to join the party in over 15 years. One member hasn’t been back to Killington since 1995.
Every year their tour bus rolls on down I-90 on a 10-hour trek to town; this year a total of 28 guys will descend on Killington sporting “Team Canada” apparel.
Whittier likens traveling in a tour bus to traveling in your basement. “The bus is filled with couches, dinettes, TVs everywhere, stereo, fridge and microwave. You watch movies and play some cards and before you know it, you’re there.”
Whittier is a 24-year veteran of Jack Daniel’s Week, Kato is next in line with 18 years, Skip is right behind with 17, then Magic Mike with 14 years. The annual trip “gives us a chance to get together,” said Whittier. “Some of us have been friends for 20 years but don’t get to see each other that often. So this is a great time for that. It’s four to five days with your friends and no responsibilities. We get to see our K-town friends.”
“Magic Mike brings the element of dazzle with his incredible magic,” Whittier says. “He can be 16 rum and cokes deep and some kid will ask him to do a trick and he’ll snap right into the professional magician he is.”
How the tradition began
Back in 1990, Peter Whittier was invited on a ski trip by three fellow bartenders and said, “Sure, why not?” They were living in Quebec at the time but wanted to check out Killington. It was pouring rain the entire drive down, but that didn’t stop them. They checked into the North Star Lodge for two nights. Whittier only skied a half day the entire trip due to all the partying Killington offered, he recalled. He went back the following year and has every year since. In 1993 he recruited others, doubling the size of the group, and rented an eight-passenger van. In 1994 he found a cool place online, The Owl House, on West Park Road and that has been their home away from home. As the group grew in size, they stepped it up and rented a rock ‘n’ roll tour bus.
Now they hire a driver and he is part of the team. They’re still trying to break the record for most people on the bus (which currently stands at 36).
To the new recruits, Whittier explains the trip, saying, “If you want to get away to a ski resort town that has a country feel, to a place where you’re not just a tourist that they’ll never see again, Killington’s it. They’ll open up their doors, let you stand behind their bars, hook you up with some drinks… They’ll introduce you to the crowd and they’ll let you in the kitchen to talk to the staff. It’s a place that’s not about where you’re from or who you are, it’s just ‘welcome to our resort!’ Plus you get to ride in a pretty cool tour bus and drink with us. If that sounds good then this is something to consider. Plus the skiing is amazing if you can get out of bed!”
After what they hope is an uneventful crossing of the border, their first stop will be the Clear River Tavern to see Jason Evans and enjoy a welcome breakfast. After, they’ll head to Moguls for the Jack Daniel’s winter games. Team Canada will take on USA in events like broom ball, tug-of-war, turkey toss and mini golf.
Twelve of the guys have expressed interest for skiing this year and Whittier has big goals to get on the hill both Friday and Sunday. Friday night they’ll bounce around.
Saturday night is their VIP party at Moguls. They’re excited to have Rick Redington play for them, as he was the first musician they met in town. They became friends in 1993. They’re hoping to fill the place with friends they’ve met over the past 24 years.
“Thank you to Sal for all he’s done for us. He goes above and beyond to accommodate us,” Whittier said. One time, at about 2 a.m., Sal made the guys pulled pork sandwiches and delivered them to the Owl House—it was a gesture they never forgot.
“That’s the kind of hospitality we receive,” said Whittier. “The man has a heart of gold, will do anything for you and works his tail off. He is a man of the people.”
When Irene hit Whittier got up a collection and sent down $1,700. When KBL bartender Patrick Thorsell passed away, they sent a wreath to the funeral home with a signed card from all. They were deeply saddened by Chris Franco’s passing in September 2013 and Whittier and a few of the guys traveled down in October for the Farewell to Franco memorial.
The hardest part of the trip is leaving. The ride home is very somber, Whittier added. A couple movies and a lot of sleeping. “I get home Monday night and am not normal until Friday,” he said.
Soon thereafter the team begins to look forward to the trip the following year. And thus the tradition continues.